Pop & Hiss

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Is 'American Idol' ready to open the closet door?

March 9, 2009 |  8:19 pm

Adam Lambert isn't the first contestant to have a back story that doesn't fit perfectly inside the homogenous whole the show tries to present.

M_jackson_getty_5

This week, the lucky 13 contestants in the latest top tier of "American Idol" begin the serious phase of competition with a dip into Michael Jackson's songbook. Jackson, who just has returned from isolation to announce a series of comeback shows, is the single biggest influence on the young R&B stars that many "Idol" strivers emulate, but he's also the ideal subject for what's turning out to be a rather strange season.

At the heart of his troubled legacy are the anxieties "Idol" also confronts, however mildly -- America's troubling history of racial divides and assimilation, and the sexual repression and need for release that is a basic subject of pop music itself.

There's been some joking on various websites that this year's most flamboyant front-runner, Adam Lambert, will perform Jackson's early '90s hit "In the Closet" as a response to recently leaked photographs of him kissing a man and dressed in glamour-queen drag. Jackson released the song just when his astounding musical charisma began to strain under the weight of his eccentricities. It is one of many attempts Jackson has made to give voice to the demons that eventually dragged him down.

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